Online | Architecture

Three-Dimensional Thinking

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

What happens when a firm of graphic designers creates its own office building? Amsterdam studio Thonik found out when it translated its work into a piece of architecture

“A building is not like a poster, it has a much longer lifespan,” says Nikki Gonnissen, co-founder of Amsterdam-based graphic design firm Thonik. Founded in 1993, the studio is now based in a building designed by fellow co-founder Thomas Widdershoven, conceived in collaboration with MMX Architects, and the graphic influence definitely shows: the facade is a grid of bold black and white stripes, wrapping around external balconies and with a staircase zig-zagging diagonally up the front.

It required a completely different attention span to a communications campaign. In fact, the process, from start to finish, took 12 long years

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this bold aesthetic was inspired by a poster, of sorts. The op-art brand identity of the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico, and its accompanying typeface, Mexcellent, were the starting point for the building’s design.

The branding, originally created by American graphic designer Lance Wyman, has been referenced by Thonik before, in their work for Rotterdam’s Boijmans van Beuningen museum. Thonik obviously can’t get Mexcellent out of its system, because the same style of continuous lines is continued inside its new office, featuring in one of the many rugs that the studio designed for the space, and also across the internal stairwell, created by Sanne Schuurman and Simone Post of multidisciplinary design lab Envisions.

“Designing and building your own workspace is still an experimental alternative in the current economic reality,” says Widdershoven. “For Thonik it meant operating within a tangle of rules and constraints and having to soften up institutions and experts to get the right support. And it required a completely different attention span to a communications campaign. In fact, the process, from start to finish, took 12 long years.”

Naturally Thonik and MMX Architects had an eye on sustainability too, and have created a zero-emission building that is all-electric, heated by an air-source heat pump, with additional power generated by solar and wind energy. The windows, of which there are many, some stepping out on to balconies, are triple glazed.

Both Gonnissen and Widdershoven were involved in the design of the interiors. The ground and first floors are taken up by a sake bar and Japanese restaurant with Thonik’s offices above it, topped with an event space on the top floor, and a rooftop terrace that’s open to the public.

While the design was overseen by the co-founders, they brought in plenty of collaborators. Simone Post not only worked on the staircase but on a brightly coloured acoustic wall in the event space, made using Vlisco Dutch wax fabrics, and interior designer Bas van Tol designed the curtains, made from diaphanous Vescom fabrics in sherbet shades of peachy-pink and yellow. Thonik sourced the furniture from Lensvelt: founded in 1962, this Dutch contract furniture brand’s simple and sometimes quirky aesthetic seems to work perfectly in this setting, perhaps because both building and furniture have the same lineage of 1960s grooviness, now more of an echo.

The crisply outlined cladding of the building also has Dutch manufacturing origins. It’s made from Trespa, a high-pressure laminate made by impregnating paper or woodpulp with resin; the paper comes from a mill in the south-eastern Netherlands. Thonik’s building certainly stands out next to its neighbours: Widdershoven describes it as “an outsider in an otherwise utilitarian setting,” bringing energy to a street full of “overwhelmingly anonymous, post-war architecture”. As a three-dimensional expression of Thonik’s playful design philosophy, it couldn’t be better.